Your newly-independent toddler looks cute because she wants to handle everything herself. She’s feeding herself, even wants to help you clean her during bath time, and you can’t help but be proud of how far you’ve come. But it’s all fun and games until your toddler tells you no, refuses to eat his vegetables or leave his friend’s house, ignores you outright when you tell him to put away his toys, and spills water on the couch even though you’ve told him so many times that it’s not allowed. Why is your toddler so defiant?
Even though you’re proud of your toddler, you’re equally mad and have no idea how to deal with this. It feels like your toddler is doing this on purpose just to piss you off, even though he knows better. Your toddler is growing and becoming less and less dependent on you each day. She’s even becoming a little rebel, and you have no idea what to do.
If these habits last longer than six months, your toddler may have oppositional defiance disorder. But how can you tell, and what should you do? Read on for more.
What Toddler Defiance Looks Like
Your toddler knows the rules, yet she continues to do the opposite. And how do you know that she knows? Because she looks at you and hesitates and then does it anyway. And then when you react, it hits her, “Uh oh” or “Oooh! Mommy doesn’t like it when I do this.” You’ll even remind him once, twice, thrice, and even for the umpteenth time, but she’ll do it again.
But it’s not really defiance; it’s an immature brain, according to The Nurture and Thrive Blog. Your toddler’s knowledge of the rules is definite and nonintegrated, and there is a missing step/disconnect between knowing and doing. Your child is aware of the rules. The one you told her about today and the different one you mentioned yesterday. However, she cannot reflect on these different rules at a higher thinking level. So, being aware of the rules stays in a different mental representation in her mind.
Your baby isn’t conflicted by the current rules; Instead, she’s conflicted by only two desires. That is her own will and what you want her/society to do. Your child is still growing and learning how she needs to behave in order to fit in and form relationships.
She knows she shouldn’t grab the doll from her friend, but she desires the toy. She wants it so badly but also wants to maintain her friendship. But her desire for the doll normally takes over, overriding everything else. And so, she grabs it from her friend. Or maybe you’ve given your child food. She knows she’s supposed to eat it but instead dumps it on the floor and starts picking it piece by piece, putting it inside her blocks because she desires to do so.
She knows better but cannot do better. It may be frustrating to deal with defiance, mainly because it feels like your child is manipulating you. But what you’re not seeing is the conflict between your toddler’s self-will and the outside world. When you couple this defiance with their increasing sense of independence and selfishness, you have a child who desires to do what’s right, knows what’s right, but isn’t socialized enough, has a premature brain, and is willful-meaning she’s defiant.
But it can worsen, and that’s when a child may have oppositional defiance disorder.
What Is Oppositional Defiance Disorder?
Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is a behavior disorder where a toddler exhibits a pattern of a cranky or mood, combative or defiant habits, and is vindictive towards those in authority. This behavior typically disrupts the child’s daily routine, including activities at home and at daycare or any other setting. It’s common for kids, especially in their terrible twos, to defy authority now and then.
They usually express this defiance by disobeying, arguing, or talking back to parents and caregivers. And when this habit lasts over six months and is more extreme than what’s considered normal for his age, then the child likely has ODD. Many kids with ODD usually have other behavior problems such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), mood disorders, learning disabilities, and anxiety disorders, while some kids will have a severe behavioral disorder known as conduct disorder.
But usually, ODD stems from defiance. According to Today’s Parent, defiance is a spectrum.
- For some strong-willed kids, they were born that way.
- Others may be responding to a short-term traumatic event
- Finally, other kids are formally diagnosed with ODD, which is an extreme version of defiance.
How Is Oppositional Defiance Disorder Diagnosed?
Normally, healthcare professionals diagnose the condition based on anecdotal evidence provided by the parents or arguers, who usually experience the toddler’s defiant behavior first-hand.
According to the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC), noticing defiant behavior in a clinical setting is very challenging because a child may not act up. The American-based organization, which offers trauma training programs, also adds that such a child may deliberately trigger people and blames them for his misbehavior or mistakes.
According to The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), between 1-16% of kids have ODD, with boys more prone to argue with grownups and get angry, while girls usually lie and do not cooperate.
What Causes Oppositional Defiant Disorder?
It’s vital to differentiate an extremely defiant child (with ODD) from one who displays acutely disruptive behavior because of an trauma such as a sudden move, divorce, or death. For the latter, the defiance is usually short-lived, with regular parental support. The oppositional defiant disorder may be caused by:
- Brain chemistry (when some neurotransmitters or brain chemicals don’t work as they should) or other brain differences such as injuries or defects to some brain areas affect child behaviour.
- Temperament- Kids unable to control their emotions have a higher probability of ODD.
- family history- Most kids with ODD normally have close family with mental disorders, such as personality, mood, and anxiety disorders. So, ODD is likely inherited.
- Family issues– A dysfunctional family life, drug and substance abuse, or inconsistent discipline by caregivers may cause the development of ODD.
- Triggers such as sleep, hunger, unexpected routine changes, Verbal harsh orders, and inconsistent transitions between situations or activities may further trigger the conditions.
What You Can Do
Here are tips you can try:
- Prevent the triggers– Make sure your child is well-fed, has had enough sleep, and transition him smoothly, for example, during moving or new experiences. This significantly reduces such outbursts.
- Be understanding– Try putting yourself in your toddler’s shoes, for example, if she cries when you ask something of her. Hug her and remind her that you know it’s tough for her to leave daycare, for instance, but she needs to go home. According to Baby Center, the idea is that you’re on her side instead of against her. Avoid getting angry and be kind yet firm about your decision.
- Set limits and ensure that your toddler is aware of them. For example, tell her not to hit when she wants something and instead ask. And if they don’t abide by the rules, provide solutions. For example, if she cries because she’s afraid of the dark, you can leave the lights on for some time.
- Positively reinforce time-outs– When you notice your toddler is acting out, help him cool off. Instead of the traditional time-out, request that he takes some time in his room to calm down.
- Emphasize good behavior- Don’t pay attention to your child only when she’s misbehaving. Commend her even when she acts appropriately. Clapping for her or telling her “good” when she does things accordingly will further encourage her to do more of the same.
- Pick your battles– If your child wants to wear shorts instead of pants to daycare and the weather allows it, let her. After all, it doesn’t matter.
- See a therapist– If your child’s behavior only seems to worsen, you can take her to a therapist who’ll check to see if she has ODD. Early intervention is essential, and there are several treatment options, including play, parental training, medication, and talk therapy.
Sources: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), Baby Centre, Nurture and Thrive Blog, Today’s Parent, The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC)
How To Respond Calmly When Toddler Acts Defiant
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